In a Facebook posting over the weekend, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois alleged that a top House Republican leader told President Obama, “I cannot even stand to look at you,” during a negotiation meeting over the government shutdown, according to a report last night in The Hill. The claim drew sharp denials from Republican leadership and the White House.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a Facebook post that the alleged confrontation happened during a meeting between Republicans and the president.
“Many Republicans searching for something to say in defense of the disastrous shutdown strategy will say President Obama just doesn’t try hard enough to communicate with Republicans,” Durbin said. “But in a ‘negotiation’ meeting with the president, one GOP House Leader told the president: ‘I cannot even stand to look at you.'”
“What are the chances of an honest conversation with someone who has just said something so disrespectful?” the Illinois Democrat added.
An aide to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he had “no idea what [Durbin’s] talking about.”
Durbin did not name the individual to whom he referred in his Facebook post and offered no further specifics as to when the alleged exchange supposedly took place.
Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel denied the claim, saying, “The speaker certainly didn’t say that, and does not recall anyone else doing so,” according to National Review’s The Corner. A spokesman for Eric Cantor also said the House Majority Leader does not remember anyone saying that.
In today’s press briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney flat out denied the exchange occurred, saying “it did not happen.”
Carney straight up denies Durbin account of congressman saying he can't stand looking at obama
— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) October 23, 2013
Here’s the full Q&A from RealClearPolitics:
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that. In terms of the president talking to Republicans, can you rule out — there was the number two Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, said on his Facebook page that someone in recent exchange with the president said he can’t even stand, this member of Congress, that he can’t even stand to look at the president. Can you say whether that happened?
JAY CARNEY: I will say this, I spoke with somebody who was in that meeting and it did not happen.
QUESTION: Did the White House speak to Senator Durbin about this?
CARNEY: I don’t know. My understanding is that, again, from participants in the meeting that that didn’t happen.
QUESTION: Did anything like it happen that would –
CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of, Jackie.
Another spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, Brendan Buck, also issued a statement after Carney’s response, according to Business Insider.
“Senator Durbin’s accusation is a serious one, and it appears to have been invented out of thin air,” Buck said. “The senator should disclose who told him this account of events, retract his reckless allegation immediately, and apologize.”
Jonathan Strong at National Review’s The Corner posited this consideration:
Besides the fact that the top two GOP officials in the House don’t remember the moment, the allegation is odd for a number of reasons. First, Durbin doesn’t specify who allegedly said it. Second, and more important, the manner in which Durbin conveyed the information (a weekend Facebook post) doesn’t comport with how Democrats likely would have used the information had it been true.
If, at the meeting between Obama and the House GOP leaders, one Republican had told Obama he can’t stand to even look at him, that information would have been immediately useful to Democrats in the ongoing fights over the shutdown and the debt ceiling as evidence of GOP intransigence and unreasonableness. That makes it more likely it would have been leaked then and to a media outlet with credibility to convincingly assert the event actually took place.
As of this afternoon, the Facebook post remained visible on Senator Durbin’s page.
UPDATED 5:10pm ET: